Surviving infidelity in a relationship
“I liken an affair to the shattering of a Waterford crystal vase. You can glue it back together, but it will never be the same again.” - John Gottman
Learning that the person you love, has cheated, is devastatingly hurtful, and often de-stablishes the foundations the relationship is built on. Dealing with infidelity can trigger a vivacious cycle of self- doubt and trust issues. Unsurprisingly, very quickly depression can descend.
Typically there are two main types of infidelity: having sex with a person outside the relationship, or developing a strong emotional attachment to a person outside the relationship. Research suggests there are gender differences in the way men and women react to infidelity. Men often feel more betrayed by sexual infidelity, than they do about emotional infidelity; whilst women are the opposite. Social scientists think this can be attributed to evolution. Men learned to be hyper-vigilant about sex because they want to be certain they are the father of a child; whilst women are much more concerned about having a partner who will be around for the ‘long-haul’ and shows commitment to supporting them in raising a family. In an era of social media and smartphones does ‘sexting’ constitute cheating? I guess it depends on personal boundaries.
But how do you begin to pick up the pieces and heal from infidelity?
A helpful starting point is to stop self-blaming. If someone cheated on you, it was a choice they made; taking responsibility for someone else’s choices is not helpful for your recovery. The next step is to give yourself time to ‘grieve’ loss of trust in the relationship. It is likely that in the ‘grieving’ process a gamut of emotions will be experienced; from rage, humiliation; hurt; sadness. Give yourself time to recover from those initial raw feelings, as it’s likely you may feel overwhelmed by resentment, rage and sadness in those first couple of months.
Next, you may need to take a long hard look at your relationship; are there longstanding issues present, which need to be faced and dealt with? And within that, are you able to identify what you’re responsible for and what you’re not. It is helpful if you can begin to have conversations with your partner which are less about expressing your rage and hurt and more about identifying what isn’t working in the relationship for both of you.
The final critical step is rebuilding trust and boundaries. This might mean asking yourself some hard questions; do you want to work towards reconciliation and if you do, what needs to be different about the relationship to eventually heal the rift. In a reconciliation scenario, it’s important that both partners are committed to working hard at relationship recovery, as it is likely to be a long and sometimes painful process. Alternatively you may feel there is no way back from your partner’s infidelity.
Whatever you decide, remember very few have the perfect unblemished relationship, infidelity can and does happen even in good relationships.
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About Lorraine Green
Lorraine is a therapist with practices based in London and Brighton. She has worked as a counsellor for several mental health charities and has experience of a wide range of mental health issues.